T.S. Eliot’s Wasteland is considered one of the most important poems of the 20th century – and part of it happened to have been written in Margate, in the seaside shelter featured here. While recovering from a nervous breakdown the American poet wrote part three of the literary masterpiece, including the words: “On Margate Sands./I can connect/Nothing with nothing./The broken fingernails of dirty hands./My people humble people who expect/Nothing.”
There is no plaque marking the significance of the literary undertaking in this spot. Rather the building has now seen better days and is pockmarked with graffiti and dirty glass ,while it’s current ‘artists in residence’ tend to be tramps or Margate’s young lovers making out for want of a better place to practise their passion. Maybe that is how Eliot would have wanted it – for the place to have retained some of the desolation and grittiness from when he took artistic shelter there.
For me it is just one of the many remarkable things about Margate that I keep discovering; another thing to endear me to this place a little bit more. He was in good company as the artist Turner also spent substantial time here. Given its illustrious past it seems somewhat prophetic that Britain’s first dedicated seaside town has since turned into some forgotten wasteland preserved for society’s underclass. But the tide is definitely turning. The inspired Turner Gallery is now a well established presence; the decaying Dreamland amusement park is set to be revamped vintage style; the iconic Winter Gardens has an impressive line up this season ranging from UB40 to Jools Holland: and the lido has just been snapped up, so watch this space. It won’t be long before a preservation order will be slapped on Eliot’s shelter and we’ll be paying to sit and be inspired by following the gaze of Eliot and Turner towards that trademark Margate horizon that us mere mortals seemed unable to appreciate – until the artists finally moved back in, and the developers followed on their coat tails.